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Wannstedt hard to figure in Pitt loss

| Thursday, Oct. 11, 2007

Well, at least Pitt tried to win in the second overtime.

I loved coach Dave Wannstedt's decision to go for it on 4th-and-goal from the 2, even if a Pat Bostick pass to Darrell Strong fell incomplete to seal a 48-45 loss to Navy.

Question is, why didn't Wannstedt have the same mentality at the end of regulation?

He did, actually, but not for long.

With the score tied, 38-38, Wannstedt went for it on 4th-and-1 from the Pitt 27 with 3:19 left. Hooray for that. College football is about taking chances and scoring as many points as possible, especially when the other team is playing XBox 360 against your defense.

Pitt converted, but Wannstedt soon lost his nerve. He ordered a punt on the same drive, on 4th-and-2 from the Pitt 47 with 1:33 left.

Wannstedt said it was actually closer to 4th-and-4 and that going for it again would have constituted "going to the well too many times."

Sorry, but when your defense is on pace to give up 500 yards -- and the other defense might be worse -- you have to go for it there.

When your defense already permitted Navy to drive 65 yards in 37 seconds at the end of the first half to get into field-goal range, you have to go for it there.

Instead, Wannstedt reverted to his NFL, field-position, play-for-the-tie mentality.

To no one's surprise, Navy moved from its 16 to the Pitt 31 before an incomplete pass forced kicker Joey Bullen to try a 48-yard field goal that would have won the game.

He missed, which merely postponed Pitt's torture. Navy handed the Panthers their ninth loss in their past 10 games against Division I-A opponents.

The Midshipmen probably would have won in the first overtime if they didn't jump offside on a Pitt field-goal attempt.

And remember, Navy isn't very good.

It lost to Ball State, couldn't put away Temple until the final minute and needed a dramatic rally to beat dreadful Duke on the final play of the game.

Duke had snapped a pesky, 23-game losing streak a week earlier.

There were at least three pieces of good news for Pitt fans:

1. Bostick (20 for 28, 191 yards, one touchdown, one interception) appears to be improving, even if Navy's pass defense has more holes than Oakmont Country Club.

2. Somebody decided to dust off junior fullback Conredge Collins (nine carries, 52 yards), whom Mel Kiper Jr. has rated as the nation's top NFL fullback prospect among juniors. Apparently, no one had informed Pitt offensive coordinator Matt Cavanaugh of this until last night.

3. Freshman tailback LeSean "Shady" McCoy (32 carries, 169 yards, three touchdowns) showed an ESPN television audience why he is being mentioned in the same breath with Pitt greats Tony Dorsett and Curtis Martin, both of whom attended the game at Heinz Field (they didn't have much company).

Wannstedt, meanwhile, spent part of his news conference this week praising his defense, which was ranked ninth in the country coming into the game.

It won't be ranked ninth anymore.

"We're still in the top 10 in the country in total defense," Wannstedt said Monday, "and when you look at the last three games, you say, 'Well, how can that be?' "

Here's how: Pitt opened the season with Eastern Michigan and Grambling. People overrated the defense's performance against Michigan State, which was banged up along the line and has since lost to Northwestern.

In its next two games, Pitt allowed 71 points.

In came Navy, which was ranked 119th in the country in passing offense -- that wouldn't be so bad, except that only 119 teams exist -- and promptly passed for 49 yards on its first play from scrimmage.

The Midshipmen spent the rest of the first half torturing Pitt with its triple-option. Pitt's defensive linemen wore shin guards in practice to prepare for Navy's cut-blocking. Maybe they should have worn chest protectors, because Navy's fullbacks spent the better part of the evening stomping over them for big gains.

Didn't that fullback dive play show up on film study?

Navy quarterback Kaipo-Noa Kaheaku-Enhada (spell check just exploded) also had more yards passing in the first half (96) than he'd had totaled in three of his first five games.

Not that any of this was particularly surprising. The Panthers haven't stopped an option attack of any kind in years.

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